palevsky_chapter2 - Chapter2 from Atomic Fragments by Mary...

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Chapter2 from Atomic Fragments by Mary Palevsky Edward Teller, High Priest of Physics On December 1, 1995, I traveled to Stanford University to meet with Edward Teller at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, where he is a senior research fellow. Left to my own devices, I would not have attempted to interview Teller. I am from a liberal background, and his name held many negative associations for me, from the matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer to the development of the H-bomb, the nuclear freeze, and the Strategic Defense Initiative. My concern was that my biases would make an interview too difficult. However, Teller had been one of the first on Hans Bethe’s list of those with whom I should speak. I wrote to Teller describing my project and saying that Bethe suggested I interview him. He sent a cordial reply, granting me the interview. Then, during the process of setting up the appointment, I had several pleasant telephone conversations with his assistant, Patricia French. Nevertheless, when I walked through the front door of the Hoover Institution, I was uneasy. As I arrived at his office, Teller was ending a meeting with a young European man who requested that Patricia French photograph them together. She then led me from her outer office into Teller’s and introduced us. She offered us some lemonade and left the room to get it. I had barely taken my seat when the eighty-seven-year-old physicist said emphatically that he did not know exactly why I had come but there were some things he intended to make clear to me from the outset. First, he said that the United States’ expenditure on nuclear weapons was a smaller percentage of the total defense budget than commonly believed, making the point that criticism of spending on nuclear weapons was overblown. I sat very still, unsure of whether I should move or speak. I had not asked his permission to tape the interview or even taken out pen and paper. As he recited the defense dollars, I indicated that I wanted to take some notes and needed my writing material. He replied that I did not need to take notes. Immediately on meeting Edward Teller, I had two reactions. The first was that I felt intimidated and dared not interrupt him. The second was that he seemed intent on persuading me of the rightness of his views. He spoke emphatically, his Hungarian-accented voice rising to punctuate crucial ideas and falling dramatically to almost a whisper at the end of key arguments. To add force to his words, he wielded his heavy walking stick. As I oriented to the room, I noticed laces protruding from the top of one of his black cowboy boots and assumed that they were part of a prosthesis. I knew that in the late 1920s, while a student in Budapest, he had lost a foot in a streetcar accident. Behind Teller’s head, I saw a bust of Abraham Lincoln. After several minutes, when there was a break in his monologue, I obtained his permission to record the
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This note was uploaded on 02/14/2011 for the course CORE 103 taught by Professor Ben-zion,sammis during the Spring '09 term at USC.

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palevsky_chapter2 - Chapter2 from Atomic Fragments by Mary...

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